This post considers the implications of cross-channel consistency for customer experience researchers. The first research implication of inter-channel consistency is to understand that researchers must investigate service delivery consistency at its cause.
The range of choices available to customers here in the 21-st century is incredible. Gone are the Henry Ford days when you, as he put it, “could have any color you want as long as it’s black.” Modern customers have an array of choices available to them not only in the brands but in delivery channels. Modern brands must serve channels in the channel of the customer’s choice, be it on-line, mobile, contact center, or in-person. As customer choice expands cross-channel consistency has become more and more important.
The problem for customer experience researchers is that this channel expansion requires a broad tool box of research techniques, as different channels require unique systems and processes appropriate to the channel. Systems and processes for on-line channels are different than those for in-person channels. These different systems and processes often lead to the siloing of channels, which may help make individual channels more efficient, but run the risk in inconsistencies in the customer experience from one channel to the other.
Customers, however, don’t look at a brand as a collection of siloed channels. Customers do not care about organizational charts. They expect a consistent customer experience regardless of channels. Customers expect cross-channel consistency.
If senior management has defined the customer experience organization-wide, the researcher’s role in coordinating research tools is much easier. If management has not defined the customer experience organization-wide, the researcher’s role is nearly impossible.
The first step in defining the customer experience organization-wide is writing a clear customer experience mission statement which clearly communicates how customers should experience the brand, and how management wants customers to feel as a result of the experience. Next, the customer experience should be defined in terms of broad dimensions and specific attributes which constitute the desired customer experience and emotional reaction to the brand.
For illustration, let’s consider the following example:
A bank may define their customer experience with four broad dimensions, which can be described as:
- Relationship Building
- Sales Process
- Product Knowledge
- Customer Knowledge
Next, the customer experience leadership of this bank must define each of these broad dimensions in terms of specific attributes which combine to make up the dimensions. For example, each of the above four dimensions may be defined by the following attributes:
|Relationship Building||Establish trust
Commitment to customer needs
Perceived as trusted advisor
|Sales Process||Referral to appropriate partner|
|Product Knowledge||Understanding of a range of products
Understand features and benefits
Explain benefits in ways that are meaningful to customers
|Customer Knowledge||Needs analysis|
Once each of the above dimensions has been defined in terms of specific attributes, the next step in translating the customer experience definition to action is to define a set of empirical behaviors which support each attribute.
For example, establishing trust is an attribute of relationship building.
Relationship Building –> Establish Trust
Under this example, a set of behaviors is defined which are designed to establish trust. For example, these behaviors may be:
- Maintain eye contact
- Speak clearly
- Maintain smile
- Thank for business
- Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”
- Encourage future business
Now, each of these six behaviors is mapped across each channel. So, for example, this bank may map these behaviors across channels as follows:
Behaviors Which Support Establishing Trust:
|New Accounts||Teller||Contact Center|
|Maintain eye contact||Maintain eye contact||—|
|Speak clearly||Speak clearly||Speak clearly|
|Maintain smile||Maintain smile||Sound as if they were smiling through the phone|
|Thank for business||Thank for business||Thank for business|
|Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”||Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”||Ask “What else they could do to assist you today?”|
|Encourage future business||Encourage future business||Encourage future business|
Repeating this process of mapping behaviors to each of the attributes will produce a complete list of employee behaviors appropriate to each channel in support of management’s broader customer experience objectives.
Inconsistent treatment based on certain demographic characteristics is illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in almost all privately owned service industries based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Other industries, such as retail banking, have additional regulatory requirements.
Beyond this legal risk, managers must be aware of the significant risk to the reputation of the brand posed by discriminatory practices.
Managers may seek comfort in the knowledge that their company’s policies and procedures are not to refuse service to anyone. However, this overt discrimination is just a small part of the risk associated with discrimination. Beyond overt discrimination, which is extremely rare, there are two other categories of discriminatory practices: disparate impact and disparate treatment.
Disparate impact is the result of policies or business practices which have an unequal impact. A restaurant with a policy to require prepayment for meals from one demographic group and not another is an example of disparate impact.
Disparate treatment is differences in treatment that originate at the customer-employee interface. Disparate treatment does not necessarily need to be a conscious act. It can be an unconscious pattern or practice of different treatment that the employee is not even aware of. The use of name, offering promotional material to a customer of one group as opposed to a customer on another group are all examples of disparate treatment.
Now, observing differences is treatment is not necessarily proof of discrimination. Human behavior, after all, is variable. There is a certain amount of normal variation in all service encounters. The trick is to determine if disparate treatment observed represents a pattern or practice of discrimination. Fortunately statistics has the answer, we use statistical tests of significance to determine both if observed differences in treatment are the result of actual discriminatory practices and the likelihood that any one member of a protected class will be treated differently than a member of another protected class. It should be noted, however, that regulatory agencies set the bar much higher. Many do not necessarily rely on statistical testing. In their view, any single case of disparate treatment is evidence of discrimination.
In a future post we will discuss the implications for customer experience researchers in testing for disparate treatment.
Inconsistent customer experiences are a significant threat to customer loyalty. In a previous post, we observed the casual relationship between consistency in the customer experience and feelings of trust and loyalty.
Consistency drives satisfaction. It is extremely common to see a correlation between intra-channel consistency and performance. Consider the following scatter plot from Kinesis’ research, which plots bank branch customer satisfaction by the variation in branch customer satisfaction:
As this plot demonstrates, consistency correlates with quality. Branches with higher customer satisfaction ratings are also the most consistent. In our customer experience research proactive we see this time and time again.
Additionally, this plot also demonstrates that top-line averages of customer satisfaction can be misleading. The bank in this plot had an average customer satisfaction rating of 93%. However, many branches fall well below this top-line average, resulting in an incomplete picture of the customer experience. Customers do not experience top-line averages; they experience the customer experience one interaction at a time at the local business unit level.
What are the implications for managers of the customer experience?
The first implication for managers is the above observation that top-line averages can mislead. Top-line averages hide individual business units with both low and inconsistent customer satisfaction. Top-line averages come between management and customers, distancing managers from how customers actually experience the brand.
Secondly, variation must be managed at the cause. Intra-channel variation is almost always at the local business unit level. For example, a store with a high degree of variation in customer traffic will experience a high degree of variation in the customer experience if management does not mitigate the effects of the variation in traffic.
How to manage for consistency:
- Manage inconsistency at the cause
- Write a clear mission statement
- Use appropriate analytics
- Don’t silo analytics by channel
- Meet regularly with employees to share problems and potential solutions
- Focus on customer journey
Intra-channel consistency needs to be managed at the local level – individual stores and agents. Tools need to be available deep into the organization to allow managers at the lowest level of each channel to deliver a consistent experience.
In the next post we will explore demographic consistency, treating all customers the same regardless of their demographic profile.
The modern customer experience environment is constituted of an ever expanding variety of delivery channels, with no evidence of the slowing of the pace of channel expansion. As channel expansion continues, customer empowerment is increasing with customer choice. Customer relationships with brands are not derived from individuals’ discrete interactions. Rather, customer relationships are defined by clusters of interactions, clusters of interactions across the entire life cycle of the relationships, and across all channels. Inter-channel consistency defines the customer relationship.
McKinsey and Company concluded in their 2014 report, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, demonstrated, in a retail banking context, a link between cross-channel consistency and bank performance.
In customers’ minds, all channels belong to the same brand. Customers do not consider management silos or organizational charts – to them all channels are the same. Customers expect consistent experiences regardless of channel. In their minds, an agent at a call center should have the same information and training as in-person agents.
What are the implications for managers of the customer experience?
The primary management issue in aligning disparate channels is to manage inconsistency at its cause. The most common cause of inconsistencies across channels is the result of siloed management, where managers’ jurisdiction is limited to their channel. Inter-channel consistency is increasingly important as advances in technology expand customer choice. Brands need to serve customers in the channel of their choice. Therefore, the cause of inter-channel inconsistency must be managed higher up in the organization at the lowest level where lines of authority across channels converge, or through some kind of cross-functional authority.
The implications for management are not limited to senior management and cross-functional teams. Customer experience managers should be aware that top-line averages can mislead. Improvement opportunities are rarely found in top-line averages, but at the local level. Again, the key is to manage inconsistency at the cause. Inconsistency at the local level almost always has a local cause; as a result, variability in performance must be managed at the local level as well.
Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 4 – Consistency and the Outsized Influence of Poor Experiences
This post continues to explore the business case for consistency by considering the influence of poor experiences.
To start, let’s consider the following case study:
Assume a brand’s typical customer has 5 service interactions per year. Also assume, the brand has a relatively strong 95% satisfaction rate. Given these assumptions, the typical customer has a 25% probability each year of having a negative experience, and in four years, in theory, every customer will have a negative experience.
As this case study illustrates, customer relationships with brands are not defined by individual, discrete customer experiences but by clusters of interactions across the lifecycle of the customer relationship. The influence of individual experiences is far less important than the cumulative effect of these clusters of customer experiences.
Consistency reduces the likelihood of negative experiences contaminating the clusters of experiences which make up the whole of the customer relationship. Negative experiences, regardless of how infrequent, have a particularly caustic effect on the customer relationship. A variety of research, including McKiney’s The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, has concluded that negative experiences have three to four times the influence on the customer as positive experiences – three to four times the influence on the customer’s emotional reaction to the brand – three to four times the influence on loyalty, purchase intent and social sharing within their network.
Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 3: The Causal Chain from Consistency to Customer Loyalty
In an earlier post we discussed the business case for consistency, primarily because consistency drives customer loyalty. This post describes the causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty.
Brands are defined by how customers experience them, and they will have both an emotional and behavioral reaction to what they experience. It is these reactions to the customer experience which drive satisfaction, loyalty and profitability.
There is a causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty. McKinsey and Company concluded in their 2014 report, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, that feelings of trust are the strongest drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and consistency is central to building customer trust.
For example, in our experience in the banking industry, institutions in the top quartile of consistent delivery are 30% more likely to be trusted by their customers compared to the bottom quartile. Furthermore, agreement with the statements: my bank is “a brand I feel close to” and “a brand that I can trust” are significant drivers of brand differentiation as a result of the customer experience. Again, brands are defined by how customers experience them. In today’s environment where consumer trust in financial institutions is extremely low, fostering trust is critical for driving customer loyalty. Consistency fosters trust. Trust drives loyalty.
Humans value consistency – we are hard wired to do so – it’s in our DNA.
It is generally believed that modern humans originated on the Savanna Plain. Life was difficult for our distant forefathers. Sources of water, food, shelter were unreliable. Dangers existed at every turn. Evolving in this unreliable and hostile environment, evolutionary forces selected in modern humans a value for consistency – in effect hard wiring us to value consistency. We seek security in an insecure world.
In this context, it is not surprising we evolved to value consistency. While our modern world is a far more reliable environment, our brains are still hard wired to value consistency.
The implication for managers of the customer experience is obvious – customers want and value consistency in the customer experience. We’ve all felt it. When a car fails to start, when the power goes out, when software crashes we all feel uncomfortable. A lack of reliability and consistency creates confusion and frustration. We want to have confidence that reliable events like starting the car, turning on the lights or using software will work consistently. In the customer experience realm, we want to have confidence that the brands we have relationships with will deliver consistently on their brand promise each time without variation in quality.
Customers expect consistent delivery on the brand promise. They base their expectations on prior experience. Thus customers are in a self-reinforcing cycle where expectations are set based on prior experiences continually reinforcing the importance of consistency. This is the foundation of customer loyalty. We are creates of habit. The foundation of customer loyalty is built on the foundation of dependable, consistent, quality service delivery.
While we evolved in a difficult and unreliable environment, our modern society is much more reliable. Our modern society offers a much more consistent existent. Again, it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. Product quality and consistency of our mass production economy has reinforced our expectations of consistency.
Today’s information technology continues to reinforce our desire for consistency. However, it adds an additional element of customization. Henry Ford, the father of mass production, famously said of the Model-T, “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.” Those days are gone. Today, we expect both consistency and customization.